Billionaire media mogul William Parrish (Anthony Hopkins) is considering a merger between his company and another media giant, while also about to celebrate his 65th birthday with an elaborate party being planned by his eldest daughter Allison (Marcia Gay Harden). He begins to hear mysterious voices, which he tries with increasing difficulty to ignore.
His youngest daughter Susan (Claire Forlani), an internal medicine resident, is involved with one of Bill's board members, Drew (Jake Weber). She is considering marriage, but her father is not favorably impressed by her relationship. When she asks for the short version of his impassioned speech, he simply says, "Stay open. Who knows? Lightning could strike!" Shortly thereafter, Susan meets a vibrant young man (Brad Pitt) at a coffee shop. She is instantly enamored but fails to even get his name. Minutes after their encounter (and unbeknownst to her), the man is struck by multiple cars in what appears to be a remarkably serious motor vehicle accident.
The grim reaper of Death arrives at Bill's home in the body of the young man, explaining that Bill's impassioned speech has piqued his interest after an eternity of boredom. Given Bill's "competence, experience, and wisdom," Death tells Bill that in return for a few extra days of life, Bill shall be his guide on Earth. Bill agrees, and Death places himself at Bill's right hand as "Joe Black" and establishes a constant presence in Bill's home and work. Susan finds Joe appealing, but cannot understand why he is treating her like a stranger.
Bill's best efforts to navigate the next few days — knowing them now to be his last — fail to keep events from going rapidly out of his control. Drew is secretly conspiring with a man bidding for Parrish Communications, so he capitalizes on Bill's strange behavior to convince the board to vote him out as Chairman, using information given to him inadvertently by Bill's son-in-law Quince (Jeffrey Tambor) to push through approval for the merger which Bill had decided to oppose. Quince is devastated by what happens to Bill as all but one other member of the board vote him out.
Susan falls deeply in love with Joe, who, now under the influence of human desires, becomes attracted to her as well. Bill angrily confronts him about it, but Death intends to take Susan with him for his own.
As his last birthday arrives, Bill makes a last attempt to demonstrate to Joe the meaning of true love and all it encompasses — especially honesty and sacrifice. Realizing finally that love means having to sacrifice his desire to take Susan so that she can live her life, he abandons his plans to take her. He also comes to Bill's assistance in regaining control of his company, exposing Drew's underhanded business dealings to the board by "revealing" himself as an agent of the Internal Revenue Service and threatening to put Drew in jail.
Bill devotes his remaining time at the party to Allison and Susan. Joe also says his last goodbye to Susan, admitting in veiled terms that he isn't what he appears to be. She senses something of the truth behind his words but is unable or unwilling to vocalize this realization. While a fireworks show marks the end of the party, Joe escorts Bill away, with Susan observing from a distance. She then is astonished to see Joe return, at first confused as to whether it's in fact the young man she met at the coffee shop. The young man, unaware of what events have transpired from the time of his death until his return, approaches Susan. Susan, somewhat caught off guard by the happenings, questions the young man with, "What do we do now?" to which the young man replies, "It will come to us." This line is to signifiy how perfect he is for Susan. After leaving the coffee shop at the beginning of the film, the young man quoted her father saying "Lightning could strike," which caught Susan's attention. This occurs once more, however, this time with the man whom she grew to love throughout the entirety of the film. This is only to symbolize how perfect this young man, who has qualities from both William and death, is for Susan.
Meet Joe Black is a 1998 American fantasy romance film produced by Universal Studios, directed by Martin Brest and starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins and Claire Forlani, loosely based on the 1934 film Death Takes a Holiday. It was the second pairing of Hopkins and Pitt after their 1994 film Legends Of The Fall.